When Germany surrendered in May 1945 it was a nation reduced to rubble. Immediately, America, Britain, Soviet Russia, and France set about rebuilding in their zones of occupation. Most urgent were physical needs--food, water, and sanitation--but from the start the Allies were also anxious to indoctrinate the German people in the ideas of peace and civilization.Read more...
When Germany surrendered in May 1945 it was a nation reduced to rubble. Immediately, America, Britain, Soviet Russia, and France set about rebuilding in their zones of occupation. Most urgent were physical needs--food, water, and sanitation--but from the start the Allies were also anxious to indoctrinate the German people in the ideas of peace and civilization.
Denazification and reeducation would be key to future peace, and the arts were crucial guides to alternative, less militaristic ways of life. In an extraordinary extension of diplomacy, over the next four years, many writers, artists, actors, and filmmakers were dispatched by Britain and America to help rebuild the country their governments had spent years bombing. Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Marlene Dietrich, George Orwell, Lee Miller, W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Billy Wilder, and others undertook the challenge of reconfiguring German society. In the end, many of them became disillusioned by the contrast between the destruction they were witnessing and the cool politics of reconstruction.
While they may have had less effect on Germany than Germany had on them, the experiences of these celebrated figures, never before told, offer an entirely fresh view of post-war Europe. The Bitter Taste of Victory is a brilliant and important addition to the literature of World War II.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-03-07
- Reviewer: Staff
In this colorful narrative, Feigel (The Love-charm of Bombs), a senior lecturer in English at King’s College, London, uses the lives of 20 American, British, and German cultural figures as a lens through which to examine post-WWII Germany, from the Nazis’ surrender to the early fall of 1949. Some of Feigel’s subjects are well known, such as novelist Thomas Mann, filmmaker Billy Wilder, and poet W.H. Auden; others, considerably less so, including photographer Lee Miller, journalist Martha Gellhorn, and novelist Rebecca West. Feigel is at her best in describing the immediate year after Germany’s defeat, when rubble was “spread for mile after mile, scattered with corpses,” and the occupiers treated civilians harshly. Vivid chapters address the Nuremberg Trials and the Berlin Airlift, and Feigel shows how the politics and sensibility of the early Cold War period led to a measure of growing Western sympathy for Germans and the abandonment of an in-depth denazification of German culture and society. Unfortunately, in her last three chapters, she focuses too heavily on Mann and his oldest children, Erika and Klaus; she also writes too little on life in the Soviet sector. Despite these flaws, this is a well-constructed, fascinating, and anecdote-rich work about the early Cold War and the influence of postwar Germany on Western culture. (May)